Eric Cantor’s Natural Disaster

Obama and Democrats should seize the opportunity to look more reasonable

In bad times, the rhetoric of ideologues can be appealing. Take the Tea Party, for instance. Its laser-like objective to control spending and shrink the size of government in a time when both are out of control is appealing to many. Also appealing is the populist feel of the movement, with people rising up to take back the government. And even if you don’t agree, one must admire the unbending resolve of Tea Party–backed elected officials to keep a promise to the electorate despite the wrath of the media and the possible personal political cost. All of that is alluring to a large segment of the population.

But as is the case with most ideologues, their resolve takes them to a place where most cannot follow. They end up saying something that makes most Americans, even ardent supporters, say, “Wait. What?”

Enter House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who went a washed-out bridge too far this week when he suggested that any extra federal disaster relief for those suffering from the effects of Hurricane Irene would have to be offset by equal or greater spending cuts. It didn’t help that Cantor said this while Congress was wrapping up a six-week vacation. The “let them eat cake” attitude from a vacation resort toward those who have lost their homes in New Jersey, Vermont and even Cantor’s own home state of Virginia was jarring, but should have been expected.

Ideologues are by definition blinded by their ideology. The resolve and confidence in purpose all sounds great until it runs into a conflicting, real-world problem.

There was an immediate response of political disgust from even Cantor’s closest allies, and the Majority Leader is backtracking so fast that his recently exposed buttocks may end up hitting the wet soil of Virginia. Cantor says now that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, cash-strapped by a year of more than 60 natural disasters, will get more disaster relief funds without delay.

Good news for families up and down the East Coast suffering from Irene. Good news for the people of Joplin, Missouri, devastated by tornadoes, who were told that the rebuilding there would have to stop to divert FEMA money east.

But bad news for Eric Cantor, the Tea Party and small-government Republicans who gave both ardent supporters and Independents who like their message reason for pause. It was a big stumble in the Crusade. A stumble that President Obama and Democrats can use to look more reasonable, while painting the Republicans as willing to throw out the baby with the flood water.

Larry Mendte writes for The Philly Post every Thursday. See his previous columns here. To watch his video commentaries, go to Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @LarryMendte.